Ramallah real estate
This past spring (2018), I decided to finally make a point of purposefully wandering around the city and taking photos of Ramallah’s seemingly never-ending construction. Like almost everything I do, I wish I would have done this a long time ago, and over a longer period of time. Back in 2009, for example, I used to live in Masyoun. Everyday I would walk past this gaping hole in the ground that, very slowly, looked like it would spawn a building. It was going so slow that I thought it would be fun to take photos of it every few months to see how it changed. I never did, and now that whole area is built up and the apartment I used to live in is a clothing store or a cafe, I can't remember which. I’d have similar thoughts when I would live in or visit the city and see how it was changing, but it took me quite awhile to get my act together and take some photos.
Part of the motivation is classic salvage. The old stone homes are often torn down by developers to build commercial buildings or apartment blocks. Apparently this same thing is happening in other cities as well—an architect I interviewed in Nablus told me that the developers were making “war” on the city—but I think its particularly intense in Ramallah. I don’t know much about the details of who is building what, but it seems like the bigger companies have a few patterns that they just replicate all over the place. Lots of smaller companies (probably just a single family or partnership) also seem to be trying to get a piece of the action, and they are building the same kinds of multi-story apartment blocks. Sometimes these buildings go up almost overnight (there are a few that I took photos of that were a hole in March and almost done in June), and others languish in various states of non-completion for years, starting and stopping as money becomes available. And since it seems like everyone has the same blueprints, its a kind of weird movement in which change is rapid but everything looks the exact same.
There is an unevenness to this drab modernist sprawl though. Not only are there old stone homes sprinkled throughout the city, but remnants of agricultural life still remain in the city. There are olive terraces adjacent to some of the largest buildings in the banking district; a qasr—a structure made out of stones reclaimed from a field that would provide shelter for a family when they would go to the fields for the summer—that is still hidden behind the al-Nahda Women’s Center, a few blocks from the center of town; and the sheep that I never got a picture of that often would just stream out across the street, stop traffic for a few minutes, and then disappear.
Some of this is pretty dramatic visually, but other parts of the real estate boom (is it a boom if it doesn’t seem to be ending?) really don’t make compelling images. Some of the most important parts of this process are the empty plots of land that, in the center of the city, are astronomically expensive. But empty land usually doesn’t make for a great photo. And then there is the obvious problem of representing what’s not there anymore. There are two plant nurseries that I used to frequent near the center of the city. Both have been removed, one is now a construction pit and the other is just an empty plot. I took pictures of the latter, mostly for nostalgia reasons, but its a pretty boring picture. And then there’s the stuff I just didn’t photograph, like all the laborers who are working late into the night to get these things done.
So that’s that. This is mostly Ramallah and its edges, as well as the border with Kufr ‘Aqab.